In an ideal world, none of us would need alarm clocks. We would all wake up naturally, perfectly refreshed from a great night’s sleep. But in the real world, many people need an alarm clock or phone alarm to wake up on time for work, school or other obligations. If you’re curious about where to keep your phone or alarm clock, you’ll need to consider several factors that can affect your ability to get a good night’s rest.
Sleep is governed by circadian rhythms. These are natural biological processes that follow an approximately 24-hour cycle, correlating with Earth’s natural periods of light and dark. Almost all living things, including animals, plants and microbes, are affected by circadian rhythms.
Your circadian rhythm is the reason why you sleep during the night and are awake during the day. Natural factors in your body produce circadian rhythms. However, signals from the environment can also affect and disrupt circadian rhythms. For example, exposure to light at a different time of day can change when your body switches on genes that affect your body’s wakefulness.
If you aren’t giving yourself enough time for sleep each night, alarms can also disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms. Research shows that alarm clock use contributes to ongoing sleep issues among some adults.
Since these rhythms are so important for good sleep, consistency is key for creating good sleep habits. We may all treasure a lazy weekend morning, but to protect your sleep schedule, you shouldn’t let yourself doze too much longer than you normally would. The CDC recommends going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. Keeping your alarm clock or phone in a consistent place helps you stick to this routine.
Now you know that light affects your internal clock, helping your body know when it’s time to wake up or go to sleep. Unfortunately, light from electronic devices at night can confuse this clock. When this happens, your brain might not produce melatonin or other sleep-related hormones at the right time.
Too much light from alarm clocks and phones can keep your body from getting the message that it’s time to sleep, and you wind up not getting enough hours of rest before your alarm goes off again the following day. Over time, not getting enough sleep can lead to a sleep disorder and contribute to several health conditions, including obesity, depression and diabetes. Therefore, the best spot for your phone or alarm clock is in a place where its brightness won’t sabotage your sleep.
Make sure you get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day. Lots of morning sunshine helps your brain get back on the right schedule. Try to fit in a morning walk before you need to be anywhere, or try walking to work or school. Getting enough exercise is also great for sleep.
It’s not realistic to totally avoid artificial light at night, but after the sun goes down, try to be more mindful of how much light you're getting. Light from screens, including your television, tablet and phone, can be one of the biggest culprits. If you need to use these devices at night, try to limit their use close to bedtime. Consider using a blue light filter or blue-light-blocking glasses if you need to use your computer or phone at night.
If you use an electronic alarm clock, make sure its bright light isn’t shining into your eyes while you’re in bed. On a nightstand next to your bed, the light may be too bright. Consider moving your alarm clock across the room or facing it away from your bed. Some alarm clocks come with shields to temporarily block the light at night.
Another option is a natural-light alarm clock, which is dark at night but slowly begins to shine as you get closer to your set alarm time. The goal is to wake up to the light, just like you were rising with the sun.
If you use a phone for your alarm, you definitely shouldn’t keep it by your bed at night. Forgetting to silence your phone can result in incoming calls, texts, emails and notifications distracting you when you’re trying to get some shuteye. Even if you can’t hear it, you might be tempted to check your phone one last time after the lights are off.
Research shows that using your phone after you turn out the lights correlates with poor sleep quality, sleepiness during the day and increased sleep disturbances. It’s also common to lose track of time scrolling through social media or playing games on your phone. If you keep your phone by your bed, you could be seriously sabotaging a healthy bedtime.
If you’re in the habit of checking your phone before bed, it may seem hard to put it away at night. But you really shouldn’t keep your phone next to your bed. In fact, the CDC recommends that you remove all electronic devices, including TVs, laptops and phones, from the bedroom. While that might not work for you, consider placing your phone on a dresser across the room or on the counter in the adjoining bathroom at night, and set your alarm loud enough that you’ll still hear it in the morning.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.